The magnitude and selectivity of natural and multiple anthropogenic mortality causes in hunted brown bears


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  • 1The population dynamic and evolutionary effects of harvesting are receiving growing attention among biologists. Cause-specific estimates of mortality are necessary to determine and compare the magnitude and selectivity of hunting and other types of mortalities. In addition to the logistic and financial constraints on longitudinal studies, they are complicated by the fact that nonhunting mortality in managed populations usually consists of a mix of natural and human-caused factors.
  • 2We used multistate capture–recapture (MCR) models to estimate cause-specific survival of brown bears (Ursus arctos) in two subpopulations in Sweden over a 23-year period. In our analysis, we distinguished between legal hunting and other sources of mortality, such as intraspecific predation, accidents, poaching, and damage control removals. We also tested whether a strong increase in harvest quotas after 1997 in one of the subpopulations affected vulnerability to legal hunting.
  • 3Although only a fraction of mortalities other than legal hunting could be considered natural, this group of causes showed a general pattern of demographic selectivity expected from natural mortality regimes in populations of long-lived species, namely greater vulnerability of young animals. On the other hand, demographic effects on hunting vulnerability were weak and inconsistent. Our findings support the assumption that hunting and other mortalities were additive.
  • 4As expected, an increase in hunting pressure coincided with a correspondingly large increase in vulnerability to hunting in the affected subpopulation. Because even unbiased harvest can lead to selective pressures on life-history traits, such as size at primiparity, increasing harvest quotas may not only affect population growth directly, but could also alter optimal life-history strategies in brown bears and other carnivores.
  • 5Legal hunting is the most conveniently assessed and the most easily managed cause of mortality in many wild populations of large mammals. Although legal hunting is the single-most important cause of mortality for brown bears in Sweden, the combined mortality from other causes is of considerable magnitude and additionally shows greater selectivity in terms of sex and age than legal hunting. Therefore, its role in population dynamics and evolution should not be underestimated.